Brown: Hawkeyes on verge of underachieving season
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Humbling doesn't really fit the bill. Too kind.
In fact, every descriptive word I can come up with doesn't properly put its arms around Saturday's train wreck at TCF Bank Stadium. Maybe I should go with some of the words Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz used in his postgame soliloquy following a 51-14 spanking by Minnesota.
Iowa got outplayed on offense, defense and special teams in a game that was important in the Big Ten's West Division race.
"They all count," Ferentz said. "It's a Big Ten game. (Expletive). They're all important. Every game on the schedule is important. There's only 12 of them. No degree of difficulty there."
This was Iowa's worst loss to Minnesota since the final game of Hayden Fry's 20-year career, a 49-7 defeat in 1998. I'm not suggesting it's time for Ferentz to hit the dusty trail after this disaster Saturday, even though some hardliners are probably putting the hot seat in the microwave.
But Saturday, when Iowa managed a season-low 205 yards of offense, allowed 429 and made Mitch Leidner look like a Heisman Trophy candidate, this was a big step toward an underachieving season.
Ferentz suggested his team drank too much feel-good Kool-Aid after last week's 48-7 victory over nemesis Northwestern.
"Maybe we fell victim to believing our bullcrap, or the bullcrap that is out there about, 'Boy, those guys really looked good,' " Ferentz said.
Iowa, 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, now has to run the table to have a chance at winning the West Division title. And that feels like a pipedream after Saturday's performance.
It starts at Illinois (4-5, 1-4 Big Ten) Saturday. The Illini are expected to get pass-happy quarterback Wes Lunt, out since getting injured against Purdue Oct. 14, back for that game. Watching film of this game should speed up his recovery.
Leidner entered play Saturday with six touchdown passes all season. He had four against the Hawkeyes, a team that recruited him. This from a Minnesota team ranked last in the Big Ten in pass offense before the game.
Win at Illinois, and the Hawkeyes still need to handle Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. The good Iowa will have to show up for three straight weeks. And show up with some grit. This team will have to handle failure much better than it handled success.
"You don't walk on water when things are going good," Ferentz said. "And when things are going bad, you don't get in the fetal position and let somebody else kick the crap out of you."
That comes down to mental toughness. Does this Iowa team have it?
"We'll find out," Ferentz said.
Iowa scored on its first drive of the game, and then allowed 51 unanswered points. After Minnesota's 28-point second quarter, against a team that had been allowing 29.6 a game, Iowa looked like it had quit.
"It's not the word I would use," Ferentz said. "But basically they just shoved it down our throats. And we couldn't do anything about it."
Ferentz's good teams never, ever had a three-game swing like this one just turned in.
First, a 38-31 loss at Maryland — when Iowa raced to a 14-0 lead and then got outscored, 38-7, before 10 cosmetic points at the end.
Then, a decisive romp over Northwestern after a bye week.
And now this loss, the most points the Gophers have scored against Iowa since 1949.
Ferentz called the Maryland loss embarrassing. If it was, what do we call Saturday? Embarrassing The Sequel?
"That would be a fitting description as well," Ferentz said.
Fans overreact by nature. The good is great, and the bad is even worse. But after watching Saturday's effort, the old axiom that Ferentz teams get better when the calendar reaches November is in serious jeopardy.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow @ByRickBrown on Twitter.
A TROUBLING TURN
The most points allowed by an Iowa team in the Kirk Ferentz era (all losses; *—overtime):
Score, opponent, year
51-14, at Minnesota, 2014
49-3, at Michigan State, 1999
45-33, at Indiana, 2000
44-7, at Arizona State, 2004
44-41, at Iowa State, 2011*
42-17, at Michigan, 2012
42-13, at Nebraska, 2000
42-7, vs. Nebraska, 1999